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and I want to know something about it," was Benjamin's
"I expect that some knowledge of it will not come amiss," said John. "You mean to make the most of these
things you can."
"I wanted the volume, too, for the chapters on Rhetoric and Logic at the end," added Benjamin.
"Of what use are Rhetoric and Logic? Perhaps they may be of service to you; they would not be to me." John spoke thus because he knew nothing about them; he had never studied them.
"Everybody ought to know something about them, even a printer," added Benjamin. "They have already helped me to form a better opinion of the style and value of some things I have read."
"Well, I can't get time to learn everything. You seem to learn 'most all there is to learn, with very little time. I wish I could, but I can't, and so I won't try." John was always thus complimentary to Benjamin. He gave him full credit for all his achievements.
"I mean to learn to speak and write the English language with propriety," continued Benjamin, "and I don't know how it can be done without a knowledge of grammar; do you?"
I shall not
"I know nothing about it, any way whatever. begin now; am too old. Can't teach old dogs new tricks." John's remark expressed his real views of these things. Although he was a bookish fellow, he was not inclined to go deep into literature or science.
Other books that Benjamin read were Locke's "Essay on the Understanding"; "The Art of Thinking," by Messrs. de Port-Royal; Sellers & Stumey's book on "Navigation," with many others of equal merit.
Benjamin cultivated the habit of taking notes when he read, jotting down notable facts and striking thoughts for future use. It is a capital practice, and one that has been
followed by nearly all learners who have distinguished themselves in scholarship. He realized the advantages of the method to such a degree that, in manhood, he addressed the following letter from London to a bright girl in whose education he was very much interested :
'CRAVEN STREET, May 16th, 1760. "I send my good girl the books I mentioned to her last night. I beg her to accept of them as a small mark of my esteem and friendship. They are written in the familiar, easy manner for which the French are so remarkable, and afford a good deal of philosophic and practical knowledge, unembarrassed with the dry mathematics used by more exact reasoners, but which are apt to discourage young beginners.
"I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand, and enter in a little book short hints of what you find that is curious, or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such particulars in your memory, where they will be ready, either for practice on some future occasion, if they are matters of utility, or at least to adorn and improve your conversation, if they are rather points of curiosity; and, as many of the terms of science are such as you cannot have met with in your common reading, and may therefore be unacquainted with, I think it would be well for you to have a good dictionary at hand, to consult immediately when you meet with a word you do not comprehend the precise meaning of.
"This may, at first, seem troublesome and interrupting; but it is a trouble that will daily diminish, as you will daily find less and less occasion for your dictionary, as you become more acquainted with the terms; and, in the meantime, you will read with more satisfaction, because with more understanding. When any point occurs in which you would be glad to have further information than your book affords you, I beg you would not in the least apprehend that I should think it a trouble to receive and answer your questions. It will be a pleasure, and no trouble. For though I may not be able, out of my own little stock of knowledge, to afford you what you require, I can easily direct you to the books where it may most readily be found. "Adieu, and believe me ever, my dear friend,
Reading with pen or pencil in hand fixes the attention, assists method, strengthens purpose, and charges memory with its sacred trust. A note-book for this purpose is the most convenient method of preserving these treasures. Professor Atkinson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, advises students thus:
"Gather up the scraps and fragments of thought on whatever subject you may be studying-for, of course, by a note-book I do not mean a mere receptacle for odds and ends, a literary dust-bin-but acquire the habit of gathering everything, whenever and wherever you find it, that belongs in your lines of study, and you will be surprised to see how such fragments will arrange themselves into an orderly whole by the very organizing power of your own thinking, acting in a definite direction. This is a true process of self-education; but you see it is no mechanical process of mere aggregation. It requires activity of thought-but without that what is any reading but mere passive amusement? And it requires method. I have myself a sort of literary bookkeeping. I keep a day-book, and, at my leisure, I post my literary accounts, bringing together in proper groups the fruits of much casual reading."
The late President Garfield began this method when he commenced to study, with a view to a liberal education, at about seventeen years of age. He continued it as long as he lived. His notes and references, including scrap-books, filled several volumes before his Congressional career closed, on a great variety of subjects. A large number of books, in addition to those in his own library, were made available in this way. It was said that his notes were of great service to him in Congress, in the discussion of almost any public question.
LEARNING THE ART OF COMPOSITION.
AVING delayed the narrative to learn of the books
that helped to make him the man he became, it is necessary to delay further to see how he practised writing composition, both prose and poetry, in his early life, thus laying the foundation for the excellence of his writings in manhood.
Benjamin was not more than seven years old when he began to write poetry. His "Uncle Benjamin's " frequent poetic addresses to him inspired him to try his hand at the art, and he wrote something and forwarded to his uncle in England. Whatever it was, it has not been preserved. But we know that he wrote a piece, doggerel of course, and sent to him, from the fact that his uncle returned the following reply :
"'Tis time for me to throw aside my pen,
When hanging sleeves read, write, and rhyme like men.
This forward spring foretells a plenteous crop;
For, if the bud bear grain, what will the top?
If plenty in the verdant blade appear,
What may we not soon hope for in the ear!
When flowers are beautiful before they're blown
If trees good fruit uninoculated bear,
You may be sure 'twill afterwards be rare.
If fruits are sweet before they've time to yellow,
If first-year's shoots such noble clusters send,
What laden boughs, Engedi-like, may we expect in end!"
There was no time, from the above date, when Benjamin did not indulge, to some extent, his inclination to write. It was done for his own amusement and profit, so that he was not in the habit of showing or speaking of his productions. None of them were preserved.
But his talent for composition developed rapidly from the time he was fairly settled in the printing business. He practised putting original thoughts, and thoughts culled from books, into sentences and paragraphs, a very sensible method of self-improvement. He often tried his hand at poetry, if it was only a couplet at a time. Longer compositions he wrote, for no one to see and read but himself. One day his brother James, curious to see what Benjamin was writing so much about, looked over his shoulder.
"What have you there, Ben?" he said. "Writing a sermon or your will? Ay! poetry is it?"-catching a glimpse of it. "Then you are a poet, are you?"
"Seeing what I can do," Benjamin replied. "We don't know what we can do till we try. It is not much any way."
"Let me read it, and I will tell you whether it is much or not. Authors are not good judges of their own productions. They are like parents, who think their own children handsomest and most promising; they think their articles are better than they are."
James was in a happy mood for him when he thus spoke. He knew nothing about Benjamin's ability in writing. composition; for this was quite a while before the newspaper was started for which he wrote.
"I have been reading much poetry of late," added Benjamin, and I am anxious to know if I can write it. I like to read it, and I have read several of the poets since I had access to Mr. Adams' library." This was after Mr. Adams invited him to take books from his library, of which we have already given an account.
"So much the more reason that I should read what you